Reviews


Karen Louise Murphy (scroll down in the window)



When much of the news coming out of Africa in recent years is distressing or even horrific (think Darfur), Tineke Van der Eecken's revised edition of Cafe D’Afrique is a welcome corrective indeed. Although by no means completely anodyne - quite the opposite, as the author does not shy away from the sadder and more unfortunate aspects of human experience - the overwhelming tone of this memoir is joyful, celebratory, a gratitude and homage paid to a resilient, long-suffering and little known people - at least to us here in comfortable Australia.

The reader travels with unembarrassed intimacy with the author through African landscapes, principally in Zambia, as well as sharing psychological landscapes, mindscapes, new ways of seeing and being, as the young Belgian woman learns to adapt to new foods, mores, attitudes, music. This last is among the important ingredients of the eponymous cafe established by the author, and she adds a superb dimension to her narrative by including a CD of music performed by some of her African friends on its premises. It is vibrant and
delightful.

The reader travels with unembarrassed intimacy with the author through African landscapes, principally in Zambia, as well as sharing psychological landscapes, mindscapes, new ways of seeing and being, as the young Belgian woman learns to adapt to new foods, mores, attitudes, music. This last is among the important ingredients of the eponymous cafe established by the author, and she adds a superb dimension to her narrative by including a CD of music performed by some of her African friends on its premises. It is vibrant and
delightful.

Tineke Van der Eecken is above all a subtle and uncluttered observer of the, or this, African way of life. Her text is sprinkled with entertaining portraits, anecdotes, dialogue, insights, and even
sub-plots more usually found in novels. As the book's subtitle indicates, this is about personal discovery, and we are privileged to share some of it with her.

Human beings, including the author, are presented with candour, warmth and an unjudgemental presentation of their less noble traits, the foibles and flaws that contribute to our concept of humanity (to err is indeed human). Among the book's many achievements is the clarity with which the author portrays the essential commonality of human nature, the shared core elements once the cultural and social accretions are put to one side. We are all, she implies by the end of her momentous journeying, equally vulnerable. Let us appreciate our lives and cause as little harm to the lives of others as we can.

Human needs are relatively straightforward - food, shelter, safety, the attempt to pursue happiness. Tineke Van der Eecken, and her readers, find this happiness in the seemingly simpler things in life -
a sense of community, friendship, music and communication. And out of these things is forged a feeling of inestimable value, for it is a form of love.

Tineke Van der Eecken opens our eyes to another land and another culture. She writes with great lucidity and compassion, and her narrative is suffused with a sense of wonder. She shares the Roman Terence's assertion that nothing human was alien to him. I hope that many, many readers will share Tineke's discoveries, and experience that rapture of understanding that always comes tinged with the poignancy of how it was achieved.

Review by Shane McCauley, 2012-04-12




Café d'Afrique by Tineke Van der Eecken is a traditional bildungsroman; a structural and stylistic choice that represents both a strength and a weakness. We get to know the author so well we become engrossed in the minutiae of her life, but such a detailed approach definitely risks becoming monotonous. There is no other voice, no outside perspective into her world. While this book may have a tendency to 'tell' rather than 'show', what it does tell is a fascinating story of one woman's sojourn in Africa, and her foray into small business. 

One of its pleasures is the way it seems to reveal more about the author than she may have intended -- in fact, this is probably one of the best things about it. The way you end up liking Tineke, sympathising with her, and really wishing her -- and her future ventures -- well. I found myself wanting to know so much more than appears on these pages: more about her mother and, indeed, the rest of her family; more about relationships with men, and friends. What is doing now, and what has been the effect of reflecting on her time in Africa and who she was then? How does she feel about what she didd and who she was? (I'd also love to know how she's found Australia so far, indigenous platitudes aside.) 

The attempt to maintain an objective voice, as thought the truth is inevitably told through the marshalling of chronological facts, detracts from the passion and possible insight at the heart of this story. It's about the trials and tribulations Tineke undergoes as she sets up a unique 'cultural restaurant' where locals and tourists alike can sample authentic Zambian cuisine, music and dance -- while still working at her official job. I found myself longing for more interiority. Then again, this book doesn't claim to be a comprehensive autobiography, more a slice of life -- or perhaps I should say a slice out of a life. 

While other readers may side with me in wanting more psychological revelations or philosophical reflections, they would be out of character for this author/narrator, which is as good an example as any, of the kind of unconscious disclosure this book seems to offer about Tineke's true character. But, after all, it doesn't claim to be about Tineke, but about Africa (as seen through the story of Cafe d'Afrique). And as such it is an absolute education. It's an honest, informative account of both a particular country and the more general experience of living overseas. The heat and the smells of the continent seem almost to rise from the pages. It is, in the end, perhaps recognised as a mud map; a rough sketch drawn by one traveller for another, an outline of the terrain by someone sho has been there for someone who may go.

An absolute education - Rose Michael for Indigo, 2010-02-18























"This memoir, set in Africa and full of colour and diversity, never strays far from its central idea of shared humanity. As Tineke passes through many conflicts and learns to make her way through the world, we grow to recognise with her that a life well-lived is one that rejoices in commonality and difference together. In giving full weight and value to every one of its main characters, whatever their culture, her story celebrates the individual worth of those who make up humanity in all its glory, with all its flaws." (Michèle Drouart)

Rejoice in commonality and difference - Michèle Drouart, 1970-01-01 




"Van der Eecken writes with generosity, frankness and insight; consequently her own character and the others she depicts, such as the wonderful culinary genius Mrs Zulu, are revealed in all their flawed beauty against a shifting backdrop of social, political and cultural perceptions and realities. Part-memoir, part-travelogue, part-coming-of-age story, Cafe d'Afrique is a book about making friends, not just with people but with a country."

A book about making friends with a country - William Yeoman for The West Australian, 2009-09-15
 




Tineke Van Der Eecken is an amazing woman. At the tender age of 24, she leaves the comforts of her home in Belgium to join the international effort to eradicate poverty in Africa. With little idea of what to expect and armed only with her deep-seated dreams of justice for all, she quickly comes to realise the problems facing the region are many, and underlying it all is the corruption and power mongering of those who could be doing some good.

Tineke’s spirit is strong and despite the enormous challenges, she remains undaunted. Her journey brings her to Lusaka in Zambia where she works for the United Nations. The café seems to spring from her need to gather everything that is good about Zambia into one place where it can be cherished, savoured and celebrated. It becomes the symbol of the richness and diversity of the African culture, where local and traditional food is the focus and the colourful and flamboyant nature of its music and dance can be showcased; the very essence of Africa all rolled into one.

In her own unique way, Tineke reveals the struggles, heartaches and disappointments she faces in keeping the café afloat; how her business partner leaves much of the decision-making and effort to her, and how even her employees can turn against her.

Set against the backdrop of a continent in turmoil, this one small café becomes a perfect metaphor of its plight.

If you have ever wondered what life in Africa is like, or even if you already know, this book will take you to new levels of awareness. Life and death walk hand in hand. Desperation wins out over honesty, reducing good people to acts of theft just to survive. Yet above it all, the human spirit is a shining example of strength and endurance, and Café d’Afrique embodies this wholeheartedly.

A thoroughly recommendable read.

Louise Gillian Evans
A perfect metaphor for the plight of a continent in turmoil - The Poet Floreate, 2011-10-28



One can’t help but connect with the author as she shares her experience of living in Africa. The beauty about this book is that as you are led through her time in Africa, you are not left feeling as though Tineke was a mere observer to all that was happening around her, instead she became part of what was and is.

Not a single story, but a well balanced book about the beauties of Africa, its challenges and the different possibilities that still present themselves even today.

"A black wall came at me…The bike moved towards the frozen truck in the middle of the road. I heard it crash. This is it, I thought. I am next." At this point in the book for me, Tineke had become part of Africa – she had given until it hurt. I could relate even more, and any doubts about her sincerity, love and compassion for Africa were wiped away. I now hoped for a happy ending.

Not a single story - George Mutale, Atihow, 2011-07-12




"Tineke Van der Eecken is a lively writer willing to share her lost idealism, longing, frustrations and achievements, balancing the benefits of her education with what she hopes to share with and learn from Africa. It tastes delicious, spiced with a spread of condiments served on a thousand edible green leaves, that take you to the heart of the expatriate encounter with the Other. Reading this work gives you a window into a world shuttered away. There are people like us, only different, and Tineke helps us get to know our common humanity while sharing her own. A book you will enjoy reading, remembering and sharing."

A window into a world shuttered away - Adrian Glamorgan, 2009-10-06



"In Café d'Afrique, young, naive and somewhat idealistic Tineke, living in Zambia, is creating opportunities to give more exposure to African culture. It proves to be a hard ride. She comes across swindlers, gets cheated, has to cope with corruption and tackle bureaucracy. A dream threatens to become a nightmare. At the end Café d'Afrique has to close its doors but Tineke has grown into a mature, grown up young woman. "The fruit bearing tree I had nurtured was not the Café, it had always and only ever been myself". A very honest book explaining why people fall in love with Africa against all odds."

A very honest book about why people fall in love with Africa - Guy Poppe, journalist, 2009-09-05
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